A Comprehensive Naturopathic Guide for Complete Digestive Wellness

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I’ve been asked to teach a gluten-free cooking class at our local food coop. I am quite frankly honored to do this, but I realized I needed to do some homework, so I could help inform the participants, a few of whom are children (accompanied by a parent) with Celiac disease and/or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Since my cookbook, Cooking Well: IBS, came out last year, I have gotten a few emails and comments from readers about how it has helped them stop having IBS flare-ups all together. This makes me so happy, as an author, but more importantly, as an educator and speaker who wants to help people stay away from getting full-blown Inflammatory Bowel Disease, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Here is my “word salad”
(no pun intended, or yes, well a little pun!) that I made for my talk (with more to come, as I develop the new book):


The reason I write today, is because around 30 years ago, I met an old woman who was born in Germany in the late 1800s. She was in her herb garden in Western Mass., and I was a “back-to-the-lander” (child of the 1960s . . . ), and interested in growing my own herbs. “Irma” was around 95 years old then, and still going strong. She had bright blue eyes, and white hair held in a bun at the nape of her neck. She had one of those classic flowered aprons on as she bent over her wheelbarrow talking to herself in German. Since German was my minor as a comp-lit major, I of course approached her and asked her what she was growing, etc. We began a nice conversation and eventual/occasional discussion on growing herbs and the health benefits.
Irma told me to “just use herbs and drink tea” as a way to live to be 95. She was very direct about that, and to the point, but of course she was out there exercising every day with her wheelbarrow, weeding, walking around….even in her 90s. Well, she is long gone, and I still remember her words of wisdom…..AND, I do grow my own herbs here in Southern Vermont, and my own veggies, and I swear by using peppermint as a soothing tea to aid digestion, and I grow lavender to use as an aromatic and therapeutic flower essence for the bath.
why peppermint?
I grow and buy and forage for other herbs, like ginger, but my favorite herb to aid digestion (and it is part of my research for my books), is peppermint.
It helps for all kinds of digestive distress: Irritable bowel syndrome, diverticultis, heartburn, it even helps me when I have a headache. I grow my own peppermint and with the leaves I made a tea, and let the tea steep for long time (I use one of those tea balls), and I sweeten it with honey. In summer, I use the fresh-grown mint leaves in iced tea (this tea for iced tea is a black or green, caffeinated tea I make as a “sun tea”) to flavor it and make the glass look pretty (I also use mint leaves in my homemade mojitos 🙂
This time of year, I have taken my leaves inside and I hang them upside down to dry, and I can have the fragrant herb smell in the middle of winter.
Anyway, there’s my reason for loving peppermint 🙂 …oh, I forgot! Whenever I have cramps, or when I was pregnant, I always relied on peppermint tea to bring me some relief from cramping, or nausea. I have heard that medicinal cannabis is very helpful for us IBD-Crohnnie’s, but that herb I have not tried!
Here is a photo I took on my road, and I do not know this woman—she seems like a private sort, who does not even wave when I ride my bike by her Victorian house—but she had a feel of the way I remember “Irma.”

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.” –William Butler Yeats

Spring is here, and I have a cold. My winter regimen of Vitamin C with Echinacea, liquid drops (2) of best quality Vitamin D, and 2 Chinese herbal capsules when I felt the first sign of a sore throat worked all winter long, until …. today.

I am going to post daily tips on my Twitter feed to try and help people get back to health, and feel better after the winter months. In Vermont, we hardly had any snow at all, but disease-carrying pests, like Lyme ticks, have wintered over and are out in the woods in full force.

TIP #1: Follow a routine. Get out and walk 45 minutes per day.That is the first big tip from someone who is battling Crohn’s and wants to give good advice (why I wrote my books was that the books I found were either too far out and crunchy, or too technical and only relying on drugs). So, with the CCFA being the best overall support, it is up to us patients to take the lead and get out and walk every day (Yeah, we’ve all hear the “Get Your Guts in Gear? slogan for the annual Walks for the CCFA..>Vermont’s is September 29th and I am gonna be there!

WALK, and tell me what you think and if it helps: Rain or shine, 45 minutes, but try to get your heart rate up when you walk—go up a few hills if you have hills in your area (remember, I live in Vermont here!), or walk faster. That is a lot of walking, so I am listening to classic books on my free audio app and it helps me get smarter (well, maybe!), when I walk.

Happy Spring!

Tryptophan is one of the 10 essential amino acids that the body uses to synthesize the proteins it needs. It’s well-known for its role in the production of nervous system messengers, especially those related to relaxation, restfulness, and sleep.

I am now aware why I love turkey so much—I sometimes even crave it. I always feel more relaxed after I eat turkey, and this may explain why….There are many researchers who study the way tryptophan manufactures serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is found—guess where?—in the intestinal tract. Just about 90% of the body’s serotonin is actually found in the gut, so my gut tells me to eat it, and I am not even a biochemist!

Since it is almost Thanksgiving, I thought I would write a post about this, and it may help those with UC also.

Tryptophan has the ability to raise serotonin levels, too! Wow, who knew this? I love the fact that I can eat turkey, nuts, seeds, bananas, soybeans and soy products, tuna, shellfish …. organic, locally-raised red meat as well, AND feel better due to the addition of this amino acid. I have tuna fish once a week, and I crave it also—I only buy tuna caught sustainably, such as by pole or line methods, without the use of what is called “bycatch,” which sounds like what it is—a horrible method of using nets called purse seines (Watch this horrible video to see the damage!) . Tuna is a delicacy, and should ONLY be purchased from a fully accredited and Greenpeace-certified company.

Tryptophan also boosts the production of B3, and since I had a partial bowel resection in 2006, I need to keep track of my B vitamins (especially since my terminal ileum is completely gone, I have lost the capacity to fully absorb vitamin B12).

Everything I eat is sourced, and mostly bought from local farms. It is not that hard to do. For instance, our turkey is a Vermont-raised, free running turkey 🙂 Potatoes are from here, butternut squash, apples, pumpkins—all from Vermont; cranberries are organic and from Cape Cod.

So, cool. A bit or dietary research unravels mysteries of cravings from this writer with Crohn’s disease!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Note: My new cookbook just came out! Check it out here–maybe buy a copy! 

Dede Cummings has Crohn’s disease and she is working with Adam (http://www.ihaveuc.com) on this awesome new site to give people with Crohn’s disease, and other types of IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), a place to go and connect (yes, and to even vent!), and share stories. on November 23, 2011 at 8:35 am

My first book signing in July, 2010.

I was 45 when I learned about the disease that was going to change my life. Up until then, my life had been largely without significant personal struggle. As an adult, I had celebrated the birth of three healthy babies and enjoyed a career that I loved, working in the world of book publishing. Some travel, fluency in another language, a college degree, and an outwardly happy family formed the nucleus around a marriage to my college boyfriend. Under the surface were family tensions and the death of one of my closest friends, a doctor, from breast cancer at the age of 41, which left me confused and somewhat prone to depression. As is evident in my story, however, I masked the pain of emotional distress and physical trauma quite well: I was a high-functioning professional woman with a career in book publishing as a designer.

I did not set out to actually write a book; instead I was keeping a food journal, which is really important for sufferers of IBD, both young and old. For an entire week, my naturopathic doctor suggested writing in a journal all the symptoms my body had and everything I was doing and eating during that time. I was told to be sure to record all symptoms, from the most minor crick in the neck to low back pain, to headaches, to diarrhea. By doing this, I began to learn how my body was trying to communicate to me: I began to listen to my body more and more, and then it became easier for me to notice these connections.

In 2006, after coming home from my bowel resection, my food journal began more as a note to my surgeon that was somewhat humorous and sarcastic (for example, “Well, Dr. H, you told me to keep a food journal so here goes . . . this is going to be really boring since I now eat practically the same thing every day!”). Later on, as my food journal progressed, I began to explore how and why I started to have symptoms and how disease was affecting my life, and the so-called journal took on a life of its own.

My publishing story is not unique: I wanted to buy a book that would help me as a lifestyle guide for the Inflammatory Bowel Disease I suffered from. I searched for a book that would incorporate both the knowledge that comes from Western (i.e., high-tech, science-based) medicine, along with a naturopathic approach that could readily be integrated into a healthy, active life.

That is the book that didn’t exist in 2006. What sets this book apart is that it’s not so much an attempt to explain the disease as an attempt to help sufferers to live with the disease, both by understanding it better and also, more practically, by providing lifestyle strategies (e.g., yoga, recipes, etc.).

I talked to one of my clients about my frustration at not being able to find a good book. This client is the publisher of Hatherleigh Press, a respected medical publisher with a CME component as well, and Random House distributes them. When I look back on our phone conversation, I realize now that I was in fact making a pitch for a book contract! He then asked me to send a proposal by email and I had a book contract – without an agent I might add – in less than a week.

By the spring of 2010, I had already enrolled in Dr. Silver’s course and had written a first draft of the book, working with a wonderful team of editors at Hatherleigh. I did not tell anyone I had an actual book contract, for fear of sounding like I was bragging; instead, I took copious notes, attended all the lectures, listened to the pitches and attended two wonderful writing workshops—one with the terrific Regina Brooks, the other with Karin Hill Craig. I also loved Katherine Russell Rich’s lecture on magazine writing, and Rusty Shelton’s public relations talk. The course gave me all tools to give my book a life of its own—I went back to my book with renewed vigor in honing my writing skills and I put together my own author-based marketing plan with which to increase sales and build my own publishing platform.

Random House has been a good distributor, and Hatherleigh Press is a wonderful small publisher—I felt as if I had the best of both worlds. What I have learned from the course, however, is what is actually selling the book: How to present and pitch yourself, as an author who has built a successful publishing platform and is a knowledgeable source in the medical world.

A writer for Prevention magazine’s story “4 Screening Tests Women Fear” interviewed me and the article was reprinted widely; another article is in the works from Yoga Journal, and my co-author Dr. Jessica Black and I have been on numerous radio shows. I built a website and started a blog and began a Twitter and Facebook page, which has increased exposure and book sales are growing with the book now in its second printing. The marketing and PR I learned from the course was invaluable and gave me the edge in terms of how to promote the book across the board, and not in the traditional “bricks and mortar” bookstore way, but in the on-line and “pitching-yourself-as-an-expert” approach. I am so grateful to Dr. Silver for what she does and how she encourages and empowers authors from the medical community to express themselves, and sell their books.

Ultimately, for me, although the book that emerged is mainly about disease and recovery, it is also about confronting pain courageously and living life to celebrate it.

This book is my story, but it is also a way for me to aid others who are either newly diagnosed with these lonely and debilitating diseases of the bowels, or who have a loved one who is living with Inflammatory Bowel Disease—the book is also a wellness guide and my co-author, Dr. Jessica Black, offered the perfect balance to the patient story by offering a comprehensive naturopathic approach to achieving and maintaining health and longevity.

Health screenings can save lives, yet many women are afraid of the pain. Discover ways to make them less scary and more comfortable. By Marisa Cohen, Prevention

I was interviewed by Marisa Cohen for her story in Prevention, and it came out on-line today via MSN, Healthy Living.
In the article, under item #2 (COLONOSCOPY), I am quoted about prep for a colonoscopy and she mentions our book! Anything that empowers women, as well as other patients with IBD, to take care of their bodies and relieve the fear of invasive medical tests is a good thing! Happy to be part of such a great article.

I’ve often wondered where expressions like “I feel it in my gut,” or the ubiquitous “butterflies in my stomach,” came from. As a layperson, writer of a new book on living with Crohn’s disease, and Crohn’s disease patient, I am fascinated by the connection between the brain and gut.

According to a New York Times article (Blakeslee, S. “Complex and Hidden Brain in Gut Makes Stomachaches and Butterflies,” January 23, 1996), the gut’s brain, “known as the enteric nervous system, is located in sheaths of tissue lining the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Considered a single entity, it is a network of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins that zap messages between neurons, support cells like those found in the brain proper and a complex circuitry that enables it to act independently, learn, remember and, as the saying goes, produce gut feelings.”

After reading the New York Times article, I came across Dr. Gershon’s book, The Second Brain, when I was struggling with a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome. Dr. Gershon is chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons at the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City and is a pioneer in research related to the gut/brain relationship. In his book, he presents a fascinating combination of neuroscience and gastroenterology. Dr. Gershon has devoted thirty years of research to this “brain in our bowel” science, and his writing is persuasive and passionate.

Emeran Mayer, M.D. also theorizes that just as meditation calms the mind, it can also relax the bowel and promote healing. In his research clinic at UCLA, he has found that most patients notice an improvement almost immediately after starting to practice meditation.

This is a photo I took this morning of my "yoga studio" which is in my basement: Kind of crude, but it works! I watch AM YOGO with Rodney Yee on a DvD and do his wonderful guided meditation each and every morning. This helps me stay in remission!

In my meditation practice, I strive daily to “open up my heart,” which is for some a symbolic act (or a spiritual affirmation) that reinforces my commitment to healing my self and reaching out to the world and the spiritual forces that I feel guide me. Since I am tall (almost 5 foot 9 inches), I sometimes slouch, and hold my shoulders inward; nowadays, I remember my dance training and pull my shoulders back, which helps me focus on opening my heart.

When I get those “butterflies” in my stomach—one example is having a client call you up and berate you over the phone if a publishing job is late (yes, this does happen, and once a client fired me after a weekend-long Crohn’s flare-up!)—I sometimes tell my client to “please wait a moment,” and I go sit on a pillow on the floor and take a few deep breaths and feel a weight lifted from my heart and abdomen; then, I pick up the phone.

I often use the following intention to end my yoga practice and also as an overall stress reducer: “May our thoughts be kind and clear; may our words and communication be kind and clear; may our actions and intentions be for the greater good of all human beings.”